Spores of fungus, Candida albicans

The long strands are the tubular filaments (hyphae) that have developed from the fungal spores. Yeast cells (rounded, yellow) are budding from the ends of the hyphae (red). Candida albicans causes the infection known as candidiasis which affects the moist mucous membranes of the body, such as skin folds, mouth, respiratory tract and vagina. Oral and vaginal conditions are known as thrush.

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Microbes are always hitting the headlines. Keep up to date with the latest microbiology news. Most stories are linked to the full article.

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  • The war for iron

    18th December, 2014

    Researchers at the University of Utah have found that primates – including various monkeys and even humans – have been locked in an evolutionary battle with infectious bacteria over iron, a trace element found in our bloodstream. Both primates and bacteria need iron, and the researchers discovered that part of our immune response against infectious bacteria is to starve them of iron. To do so, transferrin, the protein that transports iron in the blood, masks the element so that bacteria cannot get to it. However, several bacteria have developed proteins of their own that can ‘steal’ iron from transferrin. This struggle for iron is between pathogens and our immune system explains a mutation in the transferrin gene in about 25% of the world’s population, which had previously baffled scientists. We now know that this mutation is an innovation in the ‘war for iron’ between bacteria and humans.

  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome unlikely to become an epidemic

    18th December, 2014

    The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an emerging virus that originated in the Middle East and has since been reported in over 20 countries. A new study of MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia concluded that those patients who required intensive care – over two thirds – infected fewer people, as infection control measures in intensive care wards are more stringent. Nevertheless, hospital-acquired infections are the dominant reason for the virus’s spread, and the researchers note that those who had contact with patients but did not become infected themselves were still positive for the virus nearly two weeks after initial contact. The findings of the study suggest that the transmission of MERS-CoV can be minimised by identifying the virus early and enforcing stringent isolation of patients.

  • Novel concrete blocks could help eradicate dengue fever

    18th December, 2014

    Dengue fever is a dangerous viral disease transmitted to humans by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, which generally lives near stagnant water. Brazilian scientists have developed sponge-like, floating blocks of concrete that could mark a milestone in the prevention of dengue fever. The blocks contain iron oxide which, when activated by sunlight, releases a chemical that destroys organic matter such as bacteria, fungi and plankton – the food source of mosquitoes. This system is extremely cheap, with 800 blocks costing just 30p, and environmentally friendlier than current measures such as adding bleach to mosquito breeding grounds.

  • Deep sea oil reservoirs contain social bacteria

    18th December, 2014

    New research, led by scientists at Dartmouth College and University of Oslo, has shown that microbes living in the ‘deep biosphere’ – the sediment found far beneath the ocean floor – have been swapping genes for aeons. The work, published in the ISME Journal, compared heat-loving bacteria living in two environments: subsurface oil reservoirs and near hot water vents on the ocean floor. By studying the DNA from the two sample groups, the researchers showed that genes found within microbes living in the subterranean oil were also found on the ocean floor group, suggesting that bacteria have moved between the two. As yet, the mechanisms behind this ‘gene flow’ are unknown.

  • Blood transfusions from Ebola survivors to be trialled as treatment

    11th December, 2014

    The World Health Organization has named blood plasma transfusions from Ebola survivors as a possible therapy for the disease – but there have not yet been any clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of such treatments. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is now supporting a programme to begin clinical trials in Guinea in early 2015. Blood plasma contains antibodies that can trigger a response in the recipient’s immune system, so that it is better prepared for an infection with the actual Ebola virus. Ebola survivors who have been free of symptoms for 28 days will be eligible to donate plasma, and the researchers will track its impact on recipients by measuring the levels of Ebola virus in their blood.

  • Penicillin insights could counter antibiotic resistance

    11th December, 2014

    Penicillin, the first antibiotic to be widely used in modern medicine, works by attacking the molecules that build the cell walls of bacteria. Once the antibiotic punctures the cell wall, the bacteria die and their numbers are reduced. Now, a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School has delved deeper into how exactly penicillin kills bacteria and discovered that the drug causes a malfunction in the bacterial cell wall construction mechanism. As a result, the cell is locked into a cycle of building cell wall components and immediately destroying them again. This process depletes the resources of the bacterium, eventually killing it. The knowledge of how penicillin blocks infectious bacteria may help scientists find a solution to widespread resistance against this antibiotic.

  • Novel malaria treatment targets infected blood cells

    11th December, 2014

    Resistance to drugs has hampered efforts to treat malaria, which remains a health threat to nearly half the world’s population. A team of researchers from St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, have developed a compound that kills red blood cells infected by the malaria parasite while leaving other cells unharmed. They found that the molecule, called SJ733, prevents malaria parasites from maintaining their chemical balance. This flags the red blood cells infected by such parasites for destruction by our immune system. In malaria-infected mice, the team found that the parasite was undetectable 48 hours after a single dose of SJ733. Planning is already underway for human clinical trials, raising hopes of a cure for malaria that the parasites cannot become resistant to.

  • Insect infection pathways determine immune system reaction

    11th December, 2014

    Insects transmit a range of viral diseases to humans, but for transmission to occur, the insects need to become infected themselves. To study insects’ defence mechanisms against viruses, researchers usually use injections to infect them – but this process does not simulate oral infections, which occurs when an insect eats contaminated food. A team of Portuguese researchers have now studied how different infection pathways affect the ability of fruit flies to cope with viral infections. They discovered that the insects require a mechanism normally used against bacterial and fungal infections to defend themselves against orally transmitted viral infections. The team hope that this research will aid in the search for ways to block human diseases transmitted by insects.

  • Human antibodies produced in cows

    4th December, 2014

    When the human body is infected with a disease, it produces antibodies to defend itself. These antibodies can be given to other people via blood plasma transfusions to provide immunity against the pathogen that caused the disease – but in the case of deadly diseases such as Ebola or SARS, there are so few survivors that antibodies are hard to come by. Now, US researchers have used genetically modified cows to produce human antibodies against hantavirus, a virus that originates in rats and causes a range of deadly diseases in humans. The antibodies have yet to be tested in clinical trials, but the success of the project shows that it is possible to grow human antibodies in animals. The approach could be used for other viruses, providing treatments for some of the world’s most dangerous diseases.

  • Vultures’ gut bacteria help them digest rotting meat

    4th December, 2014

    Vultures eat rotting meat and carrion, a diet that would be poisonous to most other animals due to the large amount of pathogenic microbes found in dead animals. A recent study by microbiologists at Aarhus University in Denmark investigated how vultures cope with such a poisonous diet. They found that the birds’ gut microbiome is far less diverse than ours, consisting of just 76 species on average. However, these few species include bacteria such as Clostridia, one species of which can cause botulism in humans, and Fusobacteria that are similarly dangerous to us. These bacteria allow vultures to break down and digest even the most poisonous materials. It is not yet clear how the birds themselves cope with having these bacteria in their guts – the researchers suspect that the vultures may be immune, or that the bacterial strains may be ones that do not cause disease.

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